Bedbugs are oval-shaped, wingless parasites that have 6 legs and are about 1/5 of an inch long. They range in color from white to brown, although they may look dark red after feeding. Bedbugs feed on blood during the night and hide during the day. They prefer to feed on human blood, but they will also feed on other mammals, such as dogs or cats.
Bedbugs can be a terrible nuisance, but they have not been shown to spread disease.
Bedbugs live in dry, dark crevices, such as mattress seams. Because bedbugs feed at night, mattresses are an ideal place for them to live. But bedbugs don’t just live in mattresses. They can also live in crevices in your furniture, walls or floors and crawl into your bed at night.
Places such as hotels, apartments, dorms and shelters are more likely to be infested with bedbugs. This is probably because more people come and go in these places than they do in single-family homes. Bedbugs can travel from place to place on clothing and in luggage, secondhand furniture and used bedding.
Bedbugs are a growing problem in the United States. This may be partly because more people are traveling internationally and bringing bedbugs back in their luggage or on their clothes. Also, pesticides that got rid of bedbugs in the past have been replaced with milder chemicals that don’t harm bedbugs. This has allowed the bedbug population in the United States to grow.
The best time to search for live bedbugs is in the middle of the night when they come out to feed. Other signs that you have bedbugs include the following:
Bedbug bites show up as small, swollen, red bumps that may or may not have a bite mark in the center. These bites are very itchy. It is common to have several bites at a time, often in a straight row on your skin.
Bedbug bites should go away within 2 weeks. In the meantime, you can try an over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream or lotion on the affected skin to relieve the itchiness and swelling. An OTC antihistamine pill or cream called diphenhydramine (brand name: Benadryl) may also relieve itchiness caused by bedbug bites.
It’s important to avoid scratching your bites as much as possible. Scratching can damage your skin, which makes it more likely to get infected.
If an OTC cream doesn’t relieve your itchiness, you may need to ask your doctor about a prescription-strength medicine to treat your symptoms.
If your bedbug bites become infected, talk to your doctor. You may have an infection if the skin around your bites becomes red and swollen, you have a fever, or your bites blister or become sores. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to treat your infection.
If you have a severe allergic reaction to a bedbug bite, see your doctor right away.
If you have bedbugs in your home, wash all of your pajamas and bedding in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer, or freeze them for at least 24 hours. Vacuum all of your furniture, especially your mattress and its seams. If your mattress is infested, either replace it or cover the mattress and box springs in plastic covers. Fix any cracks in your furniture. Fill and seal any cracks or holes in the walls or floors.
If your infestation is severe, you may need to contact a pest control professional. Ask questions about what chemicals they use, and be sure to keep children and pets away during spraying.
Insect repellent does not keep bedbugs away, so the best way to prevent them is to avoid bringing them into your home. When you travel, be sure to inspect your bed for signs of bedbugs before you sleep in it. And, check your luggage when you get home to make sure no bugs have hidden in your bags or clothing. Inspect secondhand furniture thoroughly before bringing it into your home. If you buy secondhand clothes, bring them into your house in plastic bags, and wash them right away in hot water.
Finally, try to keep bedrooms free from clutter, which can give bedbugs more places to hide.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff